By Canon Gerry Conroy
I don’t know if the pandemic has had some effect or if it is simply I haven’t been in Glasgow for some time on a Saturday afternoon, but it has been quite a while since I have seen anyone in Sauchiehall street or Argyle street standing and calling on people to repent.
They didn’t seem to get much of a response when they did it previously, I suppose they wouldn’t get much of a response today either. It makes me wonder what kind of response the Apostles got when they went out calling on people to repent.
It’s not the most popular message in the world. Most of us probably think we are doing okay; we are not going out of our way to hurt anyone, we are just getting on with our lives and generally treating others as we would expect them to treat us, which mostly means leaving us alone to get on with our lives just as we leave them alone to get on with theirs. We don’t want people interfering with things that are none of their business. We will accept help when we need it and will try to help others if and when they need it. But keep out of other people’s lives. It’s none of their business.
We might even go so far as to say that our relationship with God is our own personal affair between me and God and nobody else can stick their noses in. God alone will judge me. There is a truth in that: God alone will judge us, but the fact that Jesus sent out the Apostles to preach repentance suggests it’s not quite so simple. One great French Catholic poet, Paul Claudel said that we all yearn for someone to judge us. There is so much heaped up inside us that is looking for someone to make sense of it all; to show us the truth of who we are. We yearn for the general resurrection and the day of judgment when all will be made clear and we will understand ourselves and all that has happened; we will know where we stand in the world. That is really what repentance is; this act of turning to God and allowing his judgment on our lives to enter our hearts. We are more used to judging ourselves and because we cannot see clearly enough the Truth, such judgment is too often based on the shifting sands of what is acceptable behaviour today. But there is within us a longing for the truth, we long for the certainty that only God who is unchanging truth can give us. But we do not find that truth by ourselves, we find it only as part of a long tradition of others who have longed for that truth and have been willing to hear the judgement of God on their lives. We hear it only as part of the Church that hands on the words of Christ, the living Word of God that is the same yesterday, today and forever. That is why we can have hope in the Word of God; it is unchanging truth and that is what we are looking for, the gaze of unchanging truth on our life so that we can know the truth of ourselves.
That could be a frightening thing for us, it would be a frightening thing if God had stayed in his heaven, but he didn’t, he came down to earth and was born in a stable, he died on the cross and rose from the dead, all so that we would know the truth. Perhaps seeing ourselves in the light of Christ might show us something we otherwise struggle to see through the jumble of things inside us. It might even show us something of why God was willing to die for us and be willing to share eternity with us.
Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton